"Pipe was spitting as hard as it gets today, and it would take a curious person not to appreciate the aesthetic joy in that."
The best ever Pipe conditions for a competition.
That was the presiding narrative.
Not, as you might expect, a typically hyperbolic claim from the WSL hype machine, but that of people who know, Ross Williams, Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian…
What do you reckon?
Regardless, the queerness of beginning at Pipe couldn’t temper enthusiasm in the Beachgrit live comments. We were ready for it. Nay, we were desperate for it. If pro surfing was a game of soggy biscuit, we were the grinning biscuits.
We’d ejaculated 1001 comments as Heat 5 was ending. A frantic pace that spoke of our aching need for the return of organised, professional surfing.
But they test us, the WSL, they do.
More on this to follow, but first: surfing.
We couldn’t have asked for a better start: Heat 1, wave 1, Owen Wright. A deep and technical Pipe wave that elicited girlish shrieks from me and likely you. My dog leapt anxiously to his feet, knowing something momentous had happened. I wasn’t ready for it and neither were the judges.
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“10 for Owen’s opener?!” I scribbled hastily, knowing full well they couldn’t give it, but certain of a high 9.
7.17 was awarded for the most egregious underscore of the day that baffled the scale right from the off.
Look at it again, I implore you.
The broadcast was stunned into literal silence whilst fans at home howled in derision. The silence was thick with tension. The technical glitch felt like eerie foreshadowing.
When the sound came back we had missed the score and the pundit’s reaction, though Ross Williams (who was worth a solid 14 point heat total all day for his commentary) was clearly staggered. He noted the double hand drag and overall technicality. “In my eyes that was a huge score” was his insufficient conclusion, in a tone more confused than tentative.
Though the scale was clearly bonkers, at least the right surfer advanced. A win for Owen was deserved and of personal value to me.
On any other day we might still be talking about this initial scoring error, but we were to witness a fine day of professional surfing, marred only by traditionally inept commentary and inexplicable production decisions.
But try as they might, even the WSL couldn’t fuck this up, noted SurfAds in the effervescent BG live commentary.
The sideshow in the first heat of the day was Jordy Smith and Ultimate Surfer, Zeke Lau, playing an amusing game of Who’s Learned Least on Tour.
Jordy battled for his 0.17, before being trumped by Zeke with his buzzer beater 2.5, giving rise to the first claim of 2022.
Jordy was to banish his demons in the elimination round by claiming the best Pipe wave he’s ever had and the best score of the day.
I like Jordy, I do, and he should absolutely be commended for developing his surfing in hollow lefts, but I still wouldn’t back him for anything other than a decent company for a night on the piss.
The scores were skewed for the next few heats, but were gradually adjusted to something recognisable in subtle, almost Orwelian fashion.
Which reminds me, has there been a Snowball-esque disappearance of our beloved Joe Turpel? Has he been quietly led down to the far pasture and chased through a hole in the hedge in the same way Martin Potter was?
If there was mention of his whereabouts I didn’t hear it.
And you know what, reader? I think I missed him. Mainly because I see no redeeming features in Kaipo as an anchor. I can’t get on board. Pumping Madonna is commendable, but you can’t trade on that forever.
There were some low scoring heats as the morning and the swell filled in, before Barron Mamiya exuded confidence and authority at a wave he knows well, posting a pair of solid 8s that were hard to disagree with.
Top seeds Italo and Filipe advanced in relatively unspectacular fashion.
Ivan Florence was of personal and financial disappointment to myself and many others in Rd1. An apparent gift of a draw against little Sammy Pupo and littler Filipe Toledo, a surfer with all the composure of wet cardboard at Pipe, seemed like a shoe in for the local boy.
But an appalling 0.23 heat TOTAL surely left him questioning his genetics and life choices.
Thankfully, he didn’t retire to the skatepark and instead showed significantly more local competence to advance through the losers round.
The major blot on his copybook was Kaipo feeling it necessary to give us his list of surfers who can also ride a skateboard. Fascinating, Kaipo, truly. But I’d be every bit as interested in a list of surfers who can bake a moist victoria sponge. That is to say, I couldn’t care less.
JJF was pushed by impressive rookie Joao Chianca but ultimately threw the hammer down with a style that spoke of both confidence and hunger. Teasing. A motivated John might just paper over some Medina-shaped cracks.
However, he was to be rampantly upstaged by Jack Robinson, who spent a significant portion of his heat in an alternate dimension. He conjured tube exits like a stage magician, flamboyantly swishing his cloak and emerging into the sunshine through spit so dense it might have been dry ice.
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Even at this early stage, I can imagine no finer duel in solid Pipe than Jack Robinson and John Florence.
Kelly chose to zig while everyone else was zagging and opted for Backdoor. His waves were worthy of victory in almost every other heat. I noted the length of his board, which seemed longer than we’re used to and looked good for it. In his (maybe) final year we may see less experimentation and more equipment of a more traditional mould. I hope so. If the waves stay solid, so will he.
Pipe was spitting as hard as it gets today, and it would take a curious person not to appreciate the aesthetic joy in that. The surfing was superb, and surely that’s all that matters.
But that’s not the whole story, is it?
As is our wont as human beings, we are compelled by misfortune, schadenfreude, and bleak, grim tragedy.
The WSL provides a platform to exorcise these quirks in our nature, and we do love to hate it.
I told myself that I wouldn’t descend into slander of the WSL, not least because it’s a well trodden path. But I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t report the facts. And if those facts reflect poorly on the WSL, well…
Aside from Ross Williams and some classic one liners, the overall commentary was bland at best and grating at worst.
Williams took his role as colour guy seriously. He claimed surfing Pipe was “like staring a cobra in the face”.
On Callum Robson – “he should be sponsored by UPS, because he’s packing it out there.”
And I appreciated the Freudian slip in the final heat of Rd 1 – “a lot of shite names on Tour”, he said, trying to say there were a lot of “bright, shiny” names, his argument being that we perhaps forget about surfers like Deivid Silva.
He was right the first time.
It’s a pity WSL commentators don’t work in a consistent non-elimination situation, because Makua Rothman was combo’d by basic rhetoric within minutes.
“Helmets period.” was all he could manage when asked for his opinion on whether surfers should wear helmets.
Chis Cote and Rosie Hodge were dressed like schizophrenia. (Dear, sweet Rosie – sorry).
Cote called an approaching set “a huge, aquatic anomaly”, which is so shit I almost love it.
Kaipo started acceptably but was soon tongue tied by basic vowel sounds.
I lost count of the number of times he said it was time to “step out” right in the middle of heats. How many waves did we miss?
What other elite sporting competition cuts away from live action for adverts and weird segments? They’re clearly terrified of the dead air that has often plagued pro surfing, but there’s work to be done in terms of how they do it. A pro pundit worth his or her salt would solve all problems.
ELO came in and dished up his speciality: a layered word salad of wet, corporate shite. Though I did enjoy his sign off. There was the patented, disingenuous “buddy” followed by uncertainty of how to praise Kaipo: “Good to see you Kaipo. Appreciate…appreciate everything…”
But by far the strangest and most ill conceived production decision was the appearance of snowboarder Shaun White during John Florence’s heat.
White, resplendent in official USA Olympic gear, was there to promote his new brand “White Space”, apparently.
It was a confusing few moments.
The BG comment section was apoplectic.
We squinted at the broadcast, trying to see the the best surfer in the competition who had been relegated to the miniplayer in the corner as he surfed live at his home break, at perhaps the most iconic wave in the world, on maybe the best day ever for competition, as we listened to a snowboarder talk shite about his new brand.
It was a production decision to confound all production decisions.
But these errors are what we’ve come to expect, and perhaps even enjoy. The WSL is back, the waves and the surfing were all time, and we love it really.
Roll on tomorrow.
Heat 1: Owen Wright DEF Zeke Lau DEF Jordy Smith
Heat 2: Griffin Cola DEF Matt McGill DEF Jordy Lawler
Heat 3: Connor O’Leary DEF Caio Ibelli DEF Morgan Cibilic
Heat 4: Barron Mamiya DEF Connor Coffin DEF Jake Marshall
Heat 5: Italo Ferreira DEF Callum Robson DEF Miguel Tudela
Heat 6: Felipe Toledo DEF Samuel Pupo DEF Ivan Florence
Heat 7: Seth Moniz DEF Kanoa Igarashi DEF Carlos Muñoz
Heat 8: Jackson Baker DEF Miguel Pupo DEF Frederico Morais
Heat 9: John Florence DEF Joao Chianca DEF Jadson Andre
Heat 10: Jack Robinson DEF Kelly Slater DEF Lucca Messinas
Heat 11: Ethan Ewing DEF Kolohe Andino DEF Imai Kalani Devault
Heat 12: Nat Young DEF Leo Fioravanti DEF Deivid Silva
Heat 1: Ivan Florence DEF Lucca Messinas DEF Morgan Cibilic
Heat 2: Jordy Smith DEF Miguel Tudela DEF Imaikalani Devault
Heat 3: Jake Marshall DEF Frederico Morais DEF Jordy Lawler
Heat 4: Carlos Muñoz DEF Deivid Silva DEF Jadson Andre